The term oral-motor refers to the use and function of the muscles of the face (lips, tongue, and jaw). Oral motor therapy works on the oral skills necessary for proper speech and eating. These skills include: awareness, strength, coordination, movement, and endurance of the lips, cheeks, tongue, and jaw.
No biting! No gum chewing! Keep your mouth closed!
These are all familiar terms. Now, we are not suggesting that we raise a generation of children without any social graces, but the fact is that oral motor tendencies are normal, necessary and soothing. The question is where and when do we encourage them. A good Oral Motor program will not only incorporate good oral motor tools, but it will also include education and behavioral modification. Oral motor patterns will vary in degree and severity depending on the individual, and therefore, a therapist/caregiver will want to observe closely. We encourage good oral motor hygiene along with a therapist consultation and a few of our terrific tools! The lack of a good program might lead to some chewed off sleeves and fingernails. So get ready, get set, bite, suck, chew and blow your way into good oral motor skills.
Speaking is a Sensory AND Motor Experience!
Before even beginning speech sounds, be sure the individuals have sensory input to their faces and all the parts of their mouths. Individuals who use vibration in their mouths make progress more quickly with articulation than those who don't have the opportunity to "wake-up" their mouths before speech time. Who knew working with a Jiggler or Z-vibe could make such a dramatic difference, and be fun?! Although you'll create your own ideas, we'll start your list with these:
- Brush teeth before speech
- Play silly "squeeze-face" games
- Blow "raspberries" with your lips
- Try to hold your tongue with your fingers
- Make "popping" and "clucking" noises
A Chewy is Better Than a Thumb!
The mouth is a primary calmer and organizer. If your child is sucking or chewing their thumb or fingers, there are numerous problems that can occur, given time. If your client is dealing with processing issues, you already understand the significant stress they are under. Strong sucking or chewing can cause orthopedic changes to developing finger bones and joints. Sucking fingers and thumbs can cause malocclusions in secondary teeth. Hands harbor viral and bacterial germs that transmit infections. Chewing a chewy strengthens oral musculature used for speech and eating. Fingers in the mouth do NOT strengthen mouth muscles, and will always be present, and tempting. A chewy knows when it is time to disappear.
Who Needs A Chewy?
Chewys are most frequently used in two situations:
- Individuals who use chewing to calm or refocus
- Individuals with speech or eating-related issues who need to make muscles stronger
How Do You Know Which Chewy to Select?
The most important thing to remember is to pick a chewy the individual will most likely USE...each person's sensory system has preferences related to texture, pliability and shape. Also, choose a chewy that reaches to muscles in the back of the mouth. Always choose a chewy that is safe for your child. Some people like to keep a chewy with them at all times. Because of this tendency you want to choose a holder that is safe. Be sure cords, necklaces or holders do not present a strangulation risk for the individual. Chewys should be used with adult supervision. If you are choosing a chewy for self-regulation or strengthening, the easier the access to the chewy, the more frequently it will be used.
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We have long witnessed the effects of touch. Vibration is a deeper form of touch that can be used to alert or calm depending on the individual and the type of vibration. For many individuals a vibrating toy can awaken them and provide a more engaged response. For others, relaxing on a vibrating surface can calm and soothe them. We offer many choices for your vibration needs. Vibration input may help with calming, self- regulation and healing effects or reducing the stress response.
Vibroacoustic Input (vibration from sound): may help with relaxation, calming restless behavior, developing sensory awareness, relieves stress and manages pain through distraction.
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Deep touch pressure or proprioceptive input (receptors in the muscles and joints) can be activated by firm holding, firm stroking, and cuddling, hugging, and squeezing or heavy work activities like pulling a heavy wagon. Deep touch pressure and heavy work activities may help with calming, organizing and self- regulation and can be helpful tools for students with ADHD, on the autism spectrum, and children with behavior challenges.
Touch Texture Tactile
Sensory Processing of Touch or Tactile input is key to developing effective gross and fine motor skills. Many children with special needs have issues with being either over or under responsive to touch input. We offer a variety in our tactile assortment including fidgets, art/media activities, and other sensory tools that are interactive, fun and may help with development of good tactile discrimination skills.
Ball Pits, Well Known for their Therapeutic Effects...?
Ball pits are designed to a create a tactile and deep touch pressure experience as part of a multi-sensory environment.. Inside a ball pit thousands of balls create a rainbow sea of fun, enticing people of all ages into the therapy environment and acting as sensory stimuli (visual, auditory, tactile).
Click here to view our selection of ball pits.
Weigh Me Down Or Hold Me Tight!
The question is...Does my child need weight or pressure input? The answer is...it depends. We all respond differently to touch and pressure. Some of us like strong hugs, others don't. Sleeping under layers of blankets is appealing to one person, while another may want no covers at all. Children along the autism spectrum disorder, those with ADHD, sensory processing disorders or other neurological challenges often respond well to either weight or pressure. These "heavy work" or deep pressure inputs help regulate the proprioceptive sensory system which in turn helps children develop improved body awareness. When additional weight or pressure is applied to the body, it may help the sensory system calm down and organize so that the child can then attend better to tasks and/or maintain more appropriate behaviors and avoid meltdowns. Some patients may need the pressure applied for longer steady intervals (a pressure vest) while others respond to interval deep pressure input (weighted vest) with on and off wearing periods.
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The "Load Down" On Weights
Weights have traditionally been used for rehabilitation and strengthening. When working with those who have sensory processing challenges, weight can become a powerful tool for providing heavy-work input to the muscles and joints. A weighted vest, for example, provides additional sensory input which may help a child feel more calm and organized and improve awareness of body in space. Many individuals respond to this type of heavy-work input and we offer a variety of products in this section, from wrist weights to medicine balls to weighted lap pads and blankets. But not all individuals can work with weights. For example, weights are not usually appropriate for those with muscular dystrophy, increased tone or where a joint might be compromised. Always check with your child's therapist before starting any sensory protocol involving weights.
Click here to view our selection of weighted therapy products.
The body's core consists of several muscle groups that when in their proper length and at optimal "tone" provide a steady support from which all other movements are initiated. Although we often think of the abdominals and back extensors when we think of our core, there are other 2-joint muscle groups (hamstrings, quadriceps) that heavily affect the stability of our core (trunk). Many of these two joint muscle groups directly affect the position of the pelvis and thus the position of the rest of the spine. As therapists, we have to encourage activities that will stimulate core stability during both static and dynamic activities. This is especially important when working with individuals with special needs, as body awareness and muscle tone/strength issues may be impaired.
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What Is CAPD?
CAPD stands for Central Auditory Processing Disorder or just APD. Auditory processing is a crucial aspect of integration, combining sensory input, language, memory, attention and timing to draw conclusions from information that has been heard. Since the auditory mechanism is located so close to the movement center of the brain, it becomes clearer that learning is not all in your head. The basic sensory systems, especially movement or vestibular input can play a key role in learning, according to the latest in brain-based research. There are several preventive measures you can take with children with APD issues. Allow additional time to process what has been said; talk slowly and rhythmically and ask the patient if talking like this helps, use visual cues to help with information processing.
What? Huh? Some Classroom Symptoms of APD Include:
Difficulty with language such as vocabulary development or syllable sequence
Difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary
Difficulty following conversations
Difficulty paying attention and remembering oral instructions
Poor listening skills
Needing more time to comprehend/process information
Reading, spelling or language difficulties
Why Use an Auditory Organizer?
Using an auditory organizer for daily task completion may a key component to success. By modifying the environment, the "just right" amount of sensory input can increase an individual's ability to successfully participate in an activity. Listening is powerful! It affects the state of the whole body. Whether you choose soothing sounds of flowing water, nature, a methodical ticking sound, instrumental selections specific to concentration, relaxation, or energizing music-the effects are dramatic! Remember, each person's system is unique. Use observation to make sure your selection is a match.
The "Buzz" Behind the Ears!
Hearing is conducted by a complex process starting in our inner ear where it detects vibration and converts it into nerve impulses that are processed in the brain. All of us use different senses, such as vision and touch, to help us learn. Those who take in information best through hearing are called auditory learners. Auditory learners remember by listening, especially with music. Other characteristics of auditory learners may include remembering names, but not faces; the need to talk while writing; and the eyes moving down and right when listening to others. Written information for auditory learners may have little meaning until it has been read out loud, and they may find games and pictures annoying and distracting. Some are overly sensitive to sounds. This is referred to as auditory sensitivity or auditory defensiveness. Those with auditory sensitivity may have difficulty tuning out background noises, such as papers shuffling, fluorescent lights buzzing or an air conditioner unit running. They may over react to sounds such as a book dropped on the floor or a routine fire drill with a "flight or fight" response. That is, the body perceives it is in imminent danger and so activates increased sweating, increased heart rate, pupil dilation and the need to run and hide and/or confront the perceived "attacker" even though there may not be any actual threat. Individuals with auditory defensiveness may respond to, and be calmed with, deep pressure input to the body or noise-protection headphones.
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Create a Chill Zone or Study Zone Station in your classroom, home or clinic. It's a challenge for anyone to focus in a busy environment. It's an even bigger challenge for children with sensory processing disorders. If a body cannot filter out irrelevant stimuli, a sensory "traffic jam" won't allow the student to participate and be productive in various settings.
The Fidget is a Focus Tool
We already know fidgets help de-stress, improve concentration, and promote ease with language. Keeping movement happening even in a small way is key to maintaining attention and focus. Some fidgets easily attach to zippers, belt loops, book bags, backpacks, lunchboxes, pencils, and desks, or are worn as jewelry. Focus is important. Attachable fidgets make getting the job done easier!
20 Simple Ways to Improve Concentration:
- Take movement breaks before working.
- Listen to music scientifically arranged to promote focus.
- Perform wall or chair push-ups.
- Chew gum or a chewy.
- Set a metronome to 60 beats per minute.
- Provide movement breaks before working.
- Play music scientifically arranged to promote focus.
- Minimize visual distractions.
- Use bright, natural lighting.
- Wiggle on a ball chair or in-seat concentration cushion.
- Eliminate as much background noise/distractions as possible.
- Use a white-noise machine to minimize auditory distractions.
- Suck on an atomic fireball or mint candy.
- Eliminate visual distractions (especially moving items) and be aware of the amount of visual sensory stimulation present in the room (hanging items, pictures on wall, bright colors, etc.).
- Use a white-noise machine to minimize auditory distractions.
- Fidget with a "fidget" while reading or listening.
- Diffuse essential oils such as tangerine, basil, or rosemary.
- Set a Time Timer™ to avoid obsessing about time constraints.
- "Fidget" with your legs by shaking your foot or using a moving footrest.
- Rock rhythmically in a chair with two x-shaped holes cut in tennis ball "socks" placed on chair legs.
- Create a way to kinesthetically learn the material.
- Move, move, move...MOVE!
Time-In Vs. Time-Out... What's It All About?
Do you have a child that has a meltdown around the same time every day? Having trouble with that student who does not do well with schedule changes? Are you a parent that feels you have to overuse the "Time Out" chair? You may have a child that has challenges with sensory overload. These students have trouble handling a busy classroom and the multiple sensations that come with it: overhead fluorescent lights, background noise of computers and fans, bulletin boards and walls filled with art work and other visual stimuli, changing classrooms or going to the gym for a pep rally... all of these scenarios become too much for them to handle as the day wears on. These children may not be able to articulate that they are in overload mode, so instead, they reach a breaking point and act out...and when they do a common disciplinary action is go in "Time- Out". Time-out is usually a space away from the hustle and bustle so the kids actually get a quiet place for their sensory system to regroup. The student then may then actually learn the conditioned response to act up to get what his/her sensory system needs and so starts the cycle. Many educators and parents need to make a paradigm shift in this concept. If you allow a sensory break in at regular intervals (say after 2 hours of being in school so around 10am for example) this 5-10-minute period of a "sensory time-in" may help prevent the meltdowns later on. The shift occurs in that the "Time-In" is not seen as a punishment or a reward, it is just something that is built into the student's schedule and implemented every day for best results. Just like a multi-vitamin, many kids need this sensory break strategy of allowing some regrouping space where they can calm down and reorganize to maintain the daily health of their sensory system. A Fluffchair in a corner with and a set of Noise Cancelling Headphones like our Hush Buddys for example may do the trick or check out our Relaxation Station for more ideas. Use a Time Timer for the transition in or out of the chill space. Follow these easy steps and watch Time Out and meltdowns disappear.
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Vision: A Learning Connection
What happens when visual issues exist? Often, a child is referred for a vision check-up, and the "all clear" is given, meaning that the child has no visual acuity issues. When the body doesn't register movement appropriately, it is difficult for the brain to send the "endure" message to muscles. This impacts eye muscles, too. Think of the ways we need visual endurance: looking at words on a page and moving all the way across without losing the place; looking for an assignment on the board, refocusing on the paper to write information, then up, then down, then up, etc.; and using two eyes together to move through the room without bumping or touching objects. This list is endless! A good visual assessment, with a developmental optometrist or occupational therapist, will identify the solutions that will work for your child.
Click here to view our selection of visual timers.
Concept of Time
Understanding the concept of time is a developmental process for all children. Most children begin to understand concepts of time between 4-5 years of age and have a more refined understanding by the time they are 9-10 (of course, this varies with every child). However, children who do not process visual information efficiently have additional challenges in understanding time. We offer you products that make understanding time a visual experience that everyone can "see."
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